He led the Atlanta Braves in home runs, slugging, OPS and WAR. He broke a team record for extra base hits held by Hank Aaron. He made his first All-Star Game and finished sixth in National League MVP voting. He also was rewarded with a 10-year, $212 million contract. Austin Riley’s 2022 season was an amazing one, making the DeSoto Central High product an easy choice for the annual Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the best performance in MLB by a Mississippian (native or school alum). In his eighth pro season — he spent parts of 2017 and ’18 with the Mississippi Braves — third baseman Riley batted .273 with 38 homers, 93 RBIs and 90 runs for the NL East champion Braves. He also has become a leader in the clubhouse. “The person he is, the player, the individual, it’s just everything that embodies the Atlanta Braves,” manager Brian Snitker told sbnation.com last summer. It’s the second straight year Riley has won the Bell, which honors the Negro Leagues legend who was the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Other winners include Tim Anderson (twice), Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan. P.S. Former M-Braves star Ronald Acuna won the Venezuelan Winter League’s Home Run Derby on Monday night with a dramatic clincher that set off a wild celebration in the stadium at Caracas. … Ex-Southern Miss star Kirk McCarty reportedly will sign with SSG Landers of the Korean Baseball Organization. McCarty, recently released by Cleveland, made his MLB debut in 2022 and posted a 4.54 ERA in 13 games for the Guardians.
The Los Angeles Angels’ 2023 quest to end their eight-year playoff drought will include Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State slugger whom they acquired in a trade Tuesday with Milwaukee. Renfroe, who hit 29 homers for the Brewers last season, joins an Angels lineup that features Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and he’ll be working with new hitting coach Marcus Thames, the former East Central Community College star. Renfroe, 30, is a .240 career hitter with 157 homers since his 2016 MLB debut and is regarded as an excellent right fielder. “He’s got the total package,” Angels GM Perry Minasian told mlb.com. “We felt like he was a really good fit for us.” The Brewers receive three young pitchers in the trade. The Angels will be Renfroe’s fifth team in five seasons. He has been on two postseason clubs: 2020 Tampa Bay and ’21 Boston. The Crystal Springs native was the 13th overall pick out of Starkville in 2013. P.S. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner, who made his big league debut in September, is pegged by mlb.com as Minnesota’s best rookie of the year candidate for 2023. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .228 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 18 games for the Twins. He put on a power show last year, blasting 27 homers between Double-A and Triple-A and homering in the All-Star Futures Game and in his first MLB game. … USA Today ranks former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson No. 87 among the 87 best available free agents this off-season. The veteran outfielder, 33, had an inconsistent year with St. Louis, hitting .267 with six homers and 36 RBIs and missing a chunk of time with injury. … Kirk McCarty, ex-USM star from Hattiesburg, was released by Cleveland after being designated for assignment earlier this month. McCarty, a left-hander, made his MLB debut with the Guardians this past season (see previous post).
Put yet another sticker on Brent Rooker’s suitcase. Pardon the old metaphor, but the former Mississippi State star was claimed off waivers today by Oakland, which is the fourth MLB team he has been a part of since April. Rooker, a power-hitting outfielder, went to spring training with Minnesota, which traded him to San Diego, which traded him to Kansas City, which waived him earlier this week. The 35th overall pick by the Twins in 2017, after winning the SEC Triple Crown and player of the year laurels, Rooker has mashed 102 homers in his minor league career — 28 in Triple-A in 2022 — but batted just .200 with 10 homers in 81 big league games. He went 4-for-25 for the lowly Royals last summer. At present, there may be room in Oakland’s outfield for the 28-year-old Rooker; the A’s are in full rebuild mode after a 102-loss season. And, hey, if he plays well next season, the A’s could always trade him for some younger talent.
Colby White, whose meteoric rise in the Tampa Bay system was derailed by an arm injury last spring, has made the Rays’ 40-man roster. White, a Hattiesburg native drafted out of Mississippi State in 2019, had Tommy John surgery last April and missed the 2022 season. In 2021, the right-handed reliever rose through four levels of the minors, never missing a beat. He had a 1.86 ERA at Triple-A Durham and earned a non-roster invite to spring training. In 58 pro games, he has a 1.76 ERA and 12 saves. Look for him to debut with Tampa Bay sometime in 2023. … J.P. France, another ex-State standout, was added to Houston’s 40-man list after putting up a 3.90 ERA as a swingman at Triple-A Sugar Land. France, a right-hander, was drafted in the 14th round in 2018. He’ll try to earn a spot in the world champion Astros’ loaded bullpen in the spring. … Former Southern Miss star Kirk McCarty was designated for assignment by Cleveland, meaning he’s off the 40-man and available as a waiver claim by other clubs. The diminutive lefty made his MLB debut for Cleveland last season and went 4-3, 4.54. He was 4-1, 3.38, at Triple-A Columbus, bouncing up and down during the season. The Guardians actually lost him on waivers to Baltimore last summer but reclaimed him shortly thereafter. … Ex-MSU standout Jake Mangum was left unprotected by the New York Mets, who could potentially lose the switch-hitting outfielder in next month’s Rule 5 draft. Mangum hit .306 last season between Double-A and Triple-A and is a .284 career hitter in three pro campaigns. … Among Atlanta’s 40-man additions is shortstop Braden Shewmake, who played for the 2021 Double-A South champion Mississippi Braves. Shewmake, who goes 6 feet 4, 190 pounds, batted just .228 with 12 homers for the M-Braves but had several hot streaks and plays a good shortstop. He hit .259 at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2022 before going down with a knee injury in August. He is the Braves’ No. 5 prospect (MLB Pipeline). P.S. Silver City native and Ole Miss alum Jack Reed, who got World Series rings with the New York Yankees in 1961 and ’62, died on Nov. 10. Reed hit .233 in 129 big league at-bats from 1961-63 and frequently was used as a defensive replacement/pinch runner for Mickey Mantle. Reed’s one homer was a game-winner in a 22-inning contest in 1962.
It’s a very exclusive club that Buck Showalter joined on Tuesday when the former Mississippi State standout claimed the National League Manager of the Year Award. He is one of just three managers to win the top manager award four times — and the first to do it with four different teams. “Very humbling, very honored,” he told mlb.com. Of course, four-time winners Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa have something that Showalter still lacks: a World Series ring. In his first season with the New York Mets, Showalter guided his club to 101 wins, a 24-win improvement over the previous season. However, they squandered a big division lead to Atlanta, lost a late showdown for first place in the National League East and made the postseason as a wild card, where they lost to San Diego. Showalter’s postseason record is 10-16 over six appearances. The BBWAA voting, which doesn’t take into account the postseason, was close in the NL race. Showalter got eight first-place votes, same as Los Angeles’ Dave Roberts and just one more than Atlanta’s Brian Snitker. Showalter’s total points were 77 to Roberts’ 57 and Snitker’s 55. Showalter became the first Mets manager to win the award; somehow, Davey Johnson, the ex-Jackson Mets skipper, did not prevail in 1986 despite winning 108 games with the team that went on to win the World Series. (Houston’s Hal Lanier won the ’86 award.) Showalter will be back with the Mets in 2023 for his 22nd season as an MLB manager.
Michael Harris II, who had never played a game in Double-A before this season, has become the third former Mississippi Braves star to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. The outfielder made the jump from Pearl to Atlanta in late May and batted .297 with 19 homers, 64 RBIs, 20 steals and 75 runs in 114 MLB games. He also excelled in center field for the NL East champs. Harris joins Ronald Acuna (2018) and Craig Kimbrel (2011) as former M-Braves to win the BBWAA award. Right-hander Spencer Strider, another M-Braves alum, was one of the three finalists this year. Two other Magnolia State minor league alums have won the ROY: ex-Jackson Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry in 1983 and former Biloxi Shuckers pitcher Devin Williams in 2020. Chris Coghlan, an Ole Miss product, won the 2009 NL rookie award and is the only state native or college alum to have claimed the honor. … A bundle of Mississippians have become minor league free agents, including several who have big league experience. The list: Ti’Quan Forbes, Trent Giambrone, Jonathan Holder, Wyatt Short, Delvin Zinn, Chuckie Robinson, Zac Houston, Dalton Moats, Cody Reed, Jack Kruger and Demarcus Evans. Corey Dickerson, Billy Hamilton and Adam Frazier were 2022 major leaguers who elected free agency. … A belated congrats to Marcus Thames, the Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College standout, on being named the Los Angeles Angels’ hitting coach. He spent last season with Miami after four years with the New York Yankees. The Angels, despite the presence of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, were one of the worst hitting teams in the majors in 2022. … On a sad note, former JaxMets outfielder Chuck Carr has died. He played at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1989-90 and spent eight years in the big leagues, stealing an NL-best 58 bases with Florida in 1993.
Rafael Palmeiro, one of seven players in MLB history with 500 homers and 3,000 hits, made the cut for the Contemporary Era Hall of Fame ballot. The former Mississippi State star is among eight finalists chosen by special committee. Also on the list are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens; like Palmeiro, their careers were tainted by PED allegations. The BBWAA will vote on these candidates on Dec. 4. Will Clark, Dave Parker and Frank White were among candidates who did not make the eight-man ballot… Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, Mississippi’s Gatorade player of the year in 2019, went 1-for-3 with a double and RBI in Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game. Keith is a highly rated Detroit prospect. … MSU alum Jake Mangum made the New York Mets’ Organization All-Star team, as selected by milb.com. Mangum, an outfielder, hit .306 with four homers, 35 RBIs and 14 steals in 2022, spending most of the year in Triple-A. … Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson, ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton and MSU product Adam Frazier have elected free agency.
The jaw-dropping no-hitter by Houston in Game 4 on Wednesday night — following Philadelphia’s jaw-dropping five-homer game on Tuesday night — ensures that there will be a Game 6 in Houston on Saturday night. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale is scheduled to be the home plate umpire for that game. Barksdale, who worked first base in Game 4, has been umpiring in MLB since 2000 (full-time since 2006) and is highly rated by those who rate such things. He was 18th in overall accuracy out of 96 umps who worked behind the plate in 2022, per umpscorecards.com. He has received a number of major assignments: the World Baseball Classic, the All-Star Game and multiple postseason series, including two World Series. He was behind the plate for Game 5 of the 2019 Series between the Astros and Washington (and made a couple of memorable ball-strike calls). … The Astros have thrown 15 no-hitters in their 61-year history. Among them are a combo effort in 2003 that was started by Weir’s Roy Oswalt and finished by former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner and a true no-no in 1986 by ex-Jackson Mets ace Mike Scott. … Oswalt, incidentally, pitched for both the Astros (10 seasons) and Phillies (two) and aided in postseason runs by both clubs. A Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, he won 163 games, second only to Guy Bush among state natives, in a stellar big league career. … Today is the 69th birthday of Sunflower native Larry Herndon, who played 14 years in the majors and won a World Series ring with Detroit in 1984. Herndon, who went to high school in Memphis and attended Tennessee State, batted .274 with 107 homers and 92 steals as an outfielder with St. Louis, San Francisco and the Tigers. In Game 1 of the ’84 Series against San Diego, Herndon hit a go-ahead two-run homer that propelled the Tigers to victory. He went 5-for-15 in the five-game series. He coached in the Detroit system in 2022. … Props to former Mississippi Braves Dansby Swanson and Max Fried and Biloxi Shuckers alum Trent Grisham for winning National League Gold Gloves. … Chris Ellis, the ex-Ole Miss and M-Braves standout, has elected free agency after being dropped from Baltimore’s 40-man roster. Ellis, 30, missed virtually the entire ’22 season with a shoulder injury.